School of Earth and Space Exploration Dean’s Medalist discovers her passion for research


Smiling girl with ocean in background

Megan McGroarty, School of Earth and Space Exploration fall 2021 Dean's Medalist, will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in astrobiology and biogeosciences, a minor in German and a certificate in sustainable food systems.

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Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Megan McGroarty is the Fall 2021 Dean’s Medalist for the School of Earth and Space Exploration. 

She is also a Barrett, The Honors College student and will graduate from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in astrobiology and biogeosciences, a minor in German and a certificate in sustainable food systems. 

McGroarty, a native of Pennsylvania, took full advantage of the interdisciplinary opportunities at ASU and worked as a docent in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. The docents at the school play a vital role in its operations, including providing guest services and tours of the Gallery of Scientific Exploration. During her time as a docent, McGroaty became an expert tour guide, hosting K–12 school groups, parents, alumni, VIPs and members of the public. 

Despite the challenges she faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and having to return home to Pennsylvania for most of 2020, McGroarty demonstrated great perseverance and initiative by adapting to a virtual environment. In her docent role, she learned to give engaging tours over Zoom and showed by example what it is like to be a successful student in the STEM environment. For her studies, she was both proactive and creative, getting the bulk of her thesis project completed remotely, despite not being able to be on campus.

Heather Throop, associate professor in both the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Life Sciences, was McGroarty’s thesis adviser. She recalls meeting her in the Camp SESE program.

“She stood out because she asked enthusiastic questions about the research in my lab,” said Throop. “Then she followed up on this interest in her second semester when she asked to volunteer in the lab. It was quickly apparent that her keen enthusiasm and powerhouse intellect would be a great asset.” 

When McGroarty and Throop started discussing the possibility of her doing an honors thesis project in Throop's lab, McGroarty's enthusiasm for research solidified. 

“For her honors thesis, Megan collaborated to design, coordinate and implement a field experiment that is addressing critical questions about how carbon cycling in deserts will respond to climate change,'' said Throop. “It was a huge effort to create this distributed experiment with sites in all five deserts of the Western U.S., especially with the challenges of COVID. Megan’s hard work and enthusiasm kept this research moving forward.”

While McGroarty has always been interested in studying science, it was the support from the School of Earth and Space Exploration and experiences at ASU that helped her discover what she is passionate about in research. She credits Throop with some of those lessons. 

“Professor Throop taught me how to think independently and navigate on my own,” said McGroarty, “which is a skill I will take with me into the future.” 

After graduation, McGroarty plans to continue her studies in graduate school next fall. We asked her to share about her time here at ASU.  

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Getting involved and putting yourself out there can be extremely rewarding. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of my major and how interdisciplinary the university is. I was always amazed by how much this large university had to offer, yet it still had this smaller community within Barrett and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Take breaks and remember to take care of yourself. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Outside of the Hayden Library, the northside sub-patio courtyard (the area to the right with the underground Hayden library entrance to the west and Life Sciences Building E Wing to the east). This area was always excellent, as it was shaded and provided relief from the Arizona heat, and it is a relatively quiet place for being in the middle of campus.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduating a semester early, I plan to head back to the East Coast for a bit. I am hoping to attend graduate school next fall.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: This is a tricky question to answer, and there are unlimited possibilities for what one could do with that kind of money. My first thought would be to give money to community programs, whatever that may be if it is for homelessness, nutritional food programs, etc. — maybe a lot of change could come from a more local level.

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